In the Al Hanissim prayer, we mention that the goal of the Yevanim was “l’hashkicham Torasecha — to force them to forget Your Torah.” To explain this phrase, let’s start with the words of Harav Chaim Volozhiner in his work Kesser Rosh. He posits that the prohibition (Devarim 4:9) to forget that which your eyes saw [on Sinai] applies to those who learned Torah from memory [as opposed to the printed text]. The Brisker Rav further explains that this prohibition is limited to the Torah Sheb’al Peh that is transmitted from one generation to the next. This is what is meant by the phrase forgetting one item of “mishnaso” (Avos 3:8).
Look at Midrash Rabbah (Shemos Rabbah 7:1): “When HaKadosh Baruch Hu revealed Himself at Sinai to give Torah to Yisrael, He taught to Moshe Mikra, Mishnah, Talmud, Aggadah, etc. Moshe then asked, Should I write it for them? Mikra I will give to be written, but the rest will be oral. Then, if the gentiles come and subjugate them [the Jewish People], they will be separated.” We see that Torah Sheb’al Peh is what separates us from the rest of the world.
Look at Yerushalmi Peah 2:4. It is very similar to the Midrash above. Then it ends: “If you preserve that which is Oral and establish that which is Written, you will be rewarded.” The Gra explains there: “One must preserve what is Oral so it will not be forgotten, but that which is Written one need merely to establish [perform].” This is exactly as we have learned above from the Brisker Rav. The prohibition of forgetting Torah is limited to Torah Sheb’al Peh and not Torah Shebichsav.
In the Mishnah in Maseches Middos [2:3] we learn: “The soreg was 10 tefachim high with 13 gaps that were made by malchei Yevanim.” The Gra explains: “Until that place it was permitted for gentiles to enter the Beis Hamikdash. From that point they were forbidden to enter, so they broke these gaps.” From here we see that the main point of the war of the Yevanim against us was to eliminate the separation between Jew and non-Jew; therefore they broke this structure in the Beis Hamikdash.
The Rambam (Hilchos Chanukah 3:1) writes: “During Bayis Sheini when the Yevanim ruled, they issued decrees against Yisrael, attacking their religion and preventing them from being busy in Torah and mitzvos.” Look at another Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:10): “When must one learn Torah? Until the day of his death, because the verse says ‘lest you forget [the Torah] all the days of your life.’ A person who is not busy in Torah, perforce forgets.” Here also we see the use of the phrase “to be busy in Torah.” It is this type of Torah which one is prohibited from forgetting. This seems to be Torah Sheb’al Peh where one can be “busy.” [See also the language of the Rambam here (1:12) where “to be busy” is used with Torah Sheb’al Peh and not with Torah Shebichsav.] Therefore, it seems that the Yevanim were opposed to the study of Torah Sheb’al Peh because this is the Torah that creates a separation between Jew and non-Jew.
Now we can appreciate in the Al Hanissim prayer, “when the malchei Yevanim haresha’im came l’hashkicham Torasecha, to cause them to forget ‘Your Torah’” — this is referring to Torah Sheb’al Peh. Because it is this Torah which separates between Jew and non-Jew — the issue that was the fight of the Yevanim. The Rambam has taught us, “If one is not busy in Torah, he surely forgets.” The goal of the Yevanim was to eliminate Torah Sheb’al Peh.
In the work Be’er Avraham by Rabbeinu Avraham, the son of the Gra, on Tehillim, on the perek “Mizmor Shir Chanukas Habayis l’Dovid,” (30), he writes: “This mizmor was written to be sung in the inauguration of the future Beis Hamikdash by the Chashmona’im.” This needs explanation — though we can posit, based on the Ramban, that “ba’u pritzim v’chaleluhah” (see Yechezkel 22) — the Beis Hamikdash lost all of its kedushah due to the presence of the Yevanim and required a new dedication to become, in fact, the Beis Hamikdash again. Yet, why would the mizmor not relate to the dedication of the Beis Hamikdash at the beginning of both Bayis Rishon and Bayis Sheini? Surely the mizmor should equally refer to every dedication of the Beis Hamikdash, and not just that of the Chashmona’im.
To answer this question, let us reference the Brisker Rav on this same perek Tehillim. He quotes Yalkut Shimoni (Divrei Hayamim I, remez 1081): “Rabi Yirmiyah in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai: The Megillas Beis Hamikdash was given over by Hakadosh Baruch Hu by standing, as it is written, “And you stand here with Me” (Devarim 5:28). Moshe delivered it to Yehoshua, standing… Yehoshua delivered it to the Zekeinim, standing… the Zekeinim stood and delivered it to the Neviim, standing. The Neviim stood and delivered it to Dovid, standing. Dovid stood and delivered it to his son Shlomo, standing.” The Brisker Rav explains that this mizmor is discussing the desire of Dovid’s enemies that he fall sick into bed and therefore be unable to deliver Megillas Beis Hamikdash to his son Shlomo. If the Beis Hamikdash cannot be built, then the kingdom of the House of Dovid falls because these two are interdependent. Therefore, this perek is full of praise to Hashem for healing Dovid from his illness. Now the Beis Hamikdash can be built and the kingdom of the House of Dovid can last forever.
An additional idea brought in the name of the Brisker Rav (in the work Toras haKodesh): The end of the previously quoted Yalkut Shimoni, “… ‘hakol bichtav’ (Divrei Hayamim I Ch. 28) teaches that the Torah can be understood through drash. ‘Alai hiskil’ teaches that [Torah] was given with ruach hakodesh.” The beginning of this drashah deals with the Beis Hamikdash, yet the end deals with Torah itself. What is the connection? The Brisker Rav answered by introducing the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Megillah 2:18): “All of the works of the Prophets and the Holy Writings will become void in the days of Moshiach. The exception to this rule is Megillas Esther. Megillas Esther will remain like Chumash and like hilchos Torah Sheb’al Peh which will never be void.” From this Rambam it seems that Megillas Beis Hamikdash will also become void. Behold, it is written like the rest of Nach which becomes void. Yet, this is the meaning of the end of the Yalkut. Though all other writings become void, Megillas Beis Hamikdash is a part of Torah Sheb’al Peh. This is what it means that “‘hakol bichtav’ can be understood through drash.” As part of Torah Sheb’al Peh, even Megillas Beis Hamikdash continues in the time of Moshiach.
Now we can understand that the fight of the Chashmona’im against the Yevanim was about their decree “l’hashkicham Torasecha — to force them to forget Your Torah” concerning Torah Sheb’al Peh. Had the Yevanim been successful, we would have remained with Torah Shebichsav without Torah Sheb’al Peh. Therefore, it is the Chashmona’im who returned to us Torah Sheb’al Peh which “is never to be void,” as per the Rambam. Therefore, the battle of the Chashmona’im links the dedication of the Beis Hamikdash with the permanence of Torah Sheb’al Peh as evidenced in this mizmor.
We will conclude with a story about Hagaon Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita. He went to sleep with a fever and they decided not to wake him for his usual pre-morning schedule. When he awoke, he commented that he had dreamed that he had died. The Rambam (quoted above) rules that one must learn even on the day of his own death. Therefore, it is important for him to learn now, since he hadn’t learned any Torah that day [since sunrise, which begins the day]!